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Ways to Afford Grad School as an Adult Student

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Find a Grad Program »

Whenever you hear or read about financial aid, you’re likely to find that most conversations circle around undergraduate aid, namely undergraduate aid for first-time students going straight from high school to college. But adults considering grad school? That’s where things get more elusive. Adults live very different lives, ones that are not easily generalized like those of high schoolers, who tend to at least follow similar and simultaneous academic stepping stones nationwide. Because of that, it’s much harder to find a one-size-fits-most approach to paying for an advanced degree. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options! In fact, the ways to pay for grad school are just as varied as the needs and lifestyles of grad school students!

Below are just a few of the ways you can help make your life-changing decision to go to grad school more affordable.

The Basics: Loans & Grants

Don’t let the term “student loans” send chills down your spine, even if you are still paying off your undergraduate education. As with all big decisions, grad school is an investment—one that could increase your earning potential and counteract the impact of loan debt. 

Federal Loans: 

    • Adults can apply for the FAFSA, too! Students above 25 will simply have to apply as independent borrowers. 
      • Types of federal loans:
        • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Your institution will determine the amount you can borrow. A key difference is that eligibility for these loans is not contingent on financial need. The most important thing to note is that you are responsible for paying the entire amount of interest on the loans.

Private Loans:

    • If federal loans aren’t enough to cover the cost of your education expenses, seek out private loans. Your personal bank may have options that work with your budget. Take the time to research what private loans are out there and what works best for you. Consider rates and fees as well as the options you have for repayment. 
    • Keep in mind that some private loans will request payments while you’re still in school, while federal loans often have more generous grace periods!


    • Grant money and scholarships don’t have to be repaid, so take advantage of free money whenever you can get it!
      • Consider all parts of your identity and any kind of achievements that could be rewarded; many grants are reserved for people of different ethnicities, abilities, and situations.
      • Individual institutions offer grants as well, so research the individual schools you’re interested in.

Make It Fast to Make It Cheaper

Look for ways to earn your graduate degree as quickly as possible. The less time you spend taking classes, the less you will be charged. 

  • Accelerated programs are short, intensive programs that minimize the length of time it takes to finish. These may take over a lot of time in your current day-to-day schedule, but it will allow you to save money and enter the workforce at a quicker pace.
  • Part-time programs are spread out and take longer to complete, but they can come with the flexibility to enable you to work full-time and continue earning money to support you.
    • Online programs offer the same flexibility and may even cost less than on-campus programs.
  • In-state public schools are likely to be more affordable that out-of-state or private schools. Look around and compare costs!

Great Employees Make Great Students

Your hard work can earn you great benefits toward schooling. Many employers invest in their employees’ continuing education with the knowledge that your individual growth will provide an extra return for your company.

Ask your employer about tuition assistance and take advantage of any loans or grants they offer. If your employer doesn’t offer tuition assistance, take matters into your own hands and pitch the idea.

It also pays to work for your school itself. As an adjunct professor, research assistant, etc., you get to practice within your field while helping pay directly for your education.

Write It Off

It’s easy to forget that you can get some major tax benefits as an independent student. At the federal level, the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit give worthwhile tax breaks to adult students. As with many taxes-related hoops to jump through, you might want to speak to an advisor so that you’re made aware of all the breaks that you can get.

Advanced degrees definitely pay off in the long run, but their initial investment can be a hefty burden to bear. But don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to afford graduate school as an adult. Meet with your institution’s financial aid office to see what options are available to you. 

More About Abound: We’re here to help. Abound: Grad School narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.

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